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Precious Pills

Precious Pills: Medicine and Social Change among Tibetan Refugees in India

Audrey Prost
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 136
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd4pd
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  • Book Info
    Precious Pills
    Book Description:

    Through an ethnography of the social and medical worlds of a community of Tibetan refugees in India, this book addresses two main questions: first, how has the prolonged displacement of Tibetan refugees affected concepts of health in the exile community? Second, how has exile changed traditional Tibetan medical practices? It explores how social changes linked to exile have influenced concepts of health and illness in the Tibetan refugee community of Dharamsala and by looking at recent changes in the theory and practice of traditional Tibetan medicine investigates the role of traditional Tibetan medicine in sustaining public health in the exile community.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-012-8
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Note on Transliteration and the Wylie System (pp. x-x)
  6. List of Abbreviations (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    This book is about the production of ‘public health’ in the context of displacement. Through an ethnography of the social and medical worlds of a community of Tibetan refugees in India, I examine the following questions: how does long-term displacement affect concepts of health, and how are traditional medical systems modified through the needs of displaced populations?

    What does it mean to speak of the ‘production’ of public health? Public health is concerned with the protection and improvement of population health through community effort, preventive medicine and research. An inclusive definition of public health therefore encompasses biomedical interventions but also...

  8. Part I: Inequalities in Exile
    • Chapter 1 ‘Because we are Tibetans …’: Talking about Health (pp. 15-29)

      This chapter introduces Dharamsala through four fieldwork episodes that focus on individual Tibetans’ experiences of health problems in exile. The data for these case studies were recorded in 2000 and 2001. The aim of this chapter is to provide ethnographic contextualisation for the issues further developed in this book.

      Every year, a springtime theatre competition is held in Dharamsala, home to the largest community of Tibetans in India. Most of the plays deal with local issues, and many echo dominant concerns in the Tibetan exile community: the struggle for Tibetan independence, foreign support for a free Tibet, and Dharamsala’s salient...

    • Chapter 2 ‘India is the Happiest Place!’: Contextualising Exile (pp. 30-42)

      Over 118,000 Tibetans live outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (People’s Republic of China).¹ Tibetan refugees first entered India in 1959, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet forced the Dalai Lama to escape across the Indian border. Approximately 85,000 Tibetans followed in exodus (Shakya, 1999). With the support of India’s government and foreign aid agencies, Tibetans built temporary government facilities in the small Himalayan town of Dharamsala. The settlement further expanded during the 1960s, when the Sino-Indian border dispute (1962) caused the displacement of recently arrived Tibetan refugees from the frontier areas into the Indian hinterland. More Tibetans then entered India...

    • Chapter 3 The Pathogenic Nature of Exile (pp. 43-53)

      When I first arrived in Dharamsala, my aim was to research the health-care ‘cultures’ of Tibetan exiles. However, following discussions with Tibetan patients at the biomedical hospital and in the Mentsikhang, my initial concern with health-care evolved into a broader preoccupation with physical and mental well-being as experienced by exiles. It soon became apparent that Tibetans’ conceptions of health were linked to issues encompassing the environment, politics, and social welfare.

      One of the first themes to emerge in interviews conducted in 2001 was a strong preoccupation with the exile environment. Tibetans felt at risk from dangerous microorganisms (bu) in food...

    • Chapter 4 From ‘Old-timers’ to ‘Newcomers’: Social Inequalities in the Diaspora (pp. 54-74)

      This chapter deals with socio-economic inequalities between first-and second-generation refugees (old-timers), and recently arrived Tibetans (newcomers). First, I explore the support networks available to ‘old-timers’ and how these impact on health-seeking behaviour. Secondly, I turn to the newcomers’ predicament and investigate their views on support and health in exile.

      The Tibetan community in India is composed of a heterogeneous range of social groups, encompassing first-generation refugees, second-or third-generation India-born Tibetans, and newcomers (Bhatia et al., 2002a). First-generation Tibet-born refugees now represent only approximately 35 per cent of the exile population. The economic constraints of exile may have ‘physically’ reduced Tibetan...

  9. Part II: The Role of Traditional Tibetan Medicine
    • Chapter 5 The Mentsikhang: Construing Traditional Authority (pp. 77-97)

      In June 2000, an article entitled ‘Counterfeit Pills’ was published by the Tibetan Astro-Medical Institute (Mentsikhang) in Dharamsala. It warned of a crisis in the production of traditional Tibetan ‘precious pills’ (rinchen rilbu):

      Counterfeited Rinchen Rilbu (Precious Pills) are being sold by some unscrupulous people. In the public interest, we are sticking holograms of our logo on our packaging to distinguish our Rinchen Rilbu from the pretenders. If viewed in adequate light, our 3-D hologram depicts our registered logo with the word ‘Mentsikhang’ inscribed in Tibetan & English. So, look for the shiny and silvery sticker on our Rinchen Rilbu.¹...

    • Chapter 6 Humours on Trial: The Mentsikhang’s Dilemmas (pp. 98-126)

      A few yards down the road from Dharamsala’s Tibetan Delek Hospital, an imposing metal gate opens onto a labyrinthine complex at the heart of Gangkyi. A strong aroma of dried plants and the characteristic odour of burning juniper leaves (shugpa) diffuse through the Mentsikhang courtyard. The compound looks deserted at first, with only a few children chasing bicycle wheels in the dust. The soft rumble of large copper pill makers is heard in the distance. Looking up to the quarters where staff live and hold their consultations however, one soon becomes aware of a quiet buzz of activity. Patients disappear...

  10. Epilogue (pp. 127-129)

    This book has sought to address two salient issues: first, the impact of social inequalities on health in the Tibetan settlements; and, secondly, Tibetan traditional medicine’s role in maintaining public health in exile communities.

    Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork among Tibetans in India, I have shown how the Mentsikhang, the Tibetans’ primary traditional medical institution in exile, has adapted its practice to the needs of the exile population. Tibetan physicians have become particularly apt at diagnosing disorders associated with exile (for example increases inlung), and disorders linked to changes in climate and diet. Moreover, Mentsikhang physicians have...

  11. Glossary of Tibetan Words with Wylie Spellings (pp. 130-142)
  12. Bibliography (pp. 143-150)
  13. Index (pp. 151-156)